Warrington Wolves analysed: Leon Hayes shines against Hull FC as Sam Burgess waxes lyrical over starlet

Ben Olawumi
Leon Hayes, Sam Burgess, Warrington Wolves badge

Warrington Wolves starlet Leon Hayes enjoyed a terrific first appearance this season against Hull FC last night, with high praise for the youngster from head coach Sam Burgess - Alamy

Sam Burgess knows a thing or two about emerging onto the Super League stage as a teenager and earning your stripes, so it comes as little surprise that he’s prepared to hand Warrington Wolves’ youngsters opportunities, and with those, responsibility.

When the team sheets were published last night at the Halliwell Jones Stadium ahead of their home opener against Hull FC, there was one highly notable absentee for Burgess’ side – England captain George Williams.

Appearing on Sky Sports pre-game, it would later be confirmed that Williams is facing up to a month out with an ankle injury.

The man drafted in to replace him? 19-year-old Leon Hayes.

Hayes isn’t exactly a new name in the fold, lauded by stand-in boss Gary Chambers after his sole senior appearance for the Wolves at the back end of last season, which took his tally up to three after featuring twice in 2022.

But the responsibility that comes with that half-back role is heavy, especially in Warrington’s side. So often it’s vice-captain Williams orchestrating everything and making things tick.

The teenager though took the chance with both hands, leading from the front as the Wolves claimed a 36-10 win to get them up and running for the season.

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Warrington Wolves analysed: Teenager Leon Hayes shines against Hull FC

After four appearances, Hayes‘ wait for his inaugural Warrington try at first-team level goes on, but he set the tone for a sterling performance early on last night with a big hand in Danny Walker‘s opening try.

Leon Hayes
Leon Hayes in action for Warrington Wolves against Hull FC – Alamy

Running directly at the FC defence and causing issues, he jinked under the grasp of both Fa’amanu Brown and Jordan Lane four minutes in, making circa 20 metres. Walker dived over from the next play, and Burgess’ side hit the front foot.

With the teenager very much using his height to his advantage, that run reminded us of textbook Rob Burrow in a Leeds Rhinos shirt, though there’s a (obviously) a very long way to go before we’ll start even making those comparisons.

The carry for that try was one of seven balls taken in by the 19-year-old, far from shying away, with no errors to his name last night. For context, his partner in the halves Josh Drinkwater‘s carry count stood at three come the end of the evening.

By the time the final hooter sounded, Warrington had run in four more tries, and Hayes had a big hand in at least two of those, some silky movement and passing on display in both.

A timely pass out left to Matt Dufty eventually led to Matty Ashton‘s try in the corner, with the hosts making full use of their man-advantage following Brown’s dismissal towards the end of the first half, and ramping things up late on to give the scoreline a handsome look.

With the very last play of the game, Connor Wrench went over, and again Hayes was the man to thank, his pass out right the key one in unlocking the door down the right-edge.

And in-between, the youngster could have had one of his own too, supporting Lachlan Fitzgibbon all the way as he opted to pick out James Harrison rather than Hayes, who would have had a walk-in. Harrison eventually got over the line, and it’s a good job he did at that.

Leon Hayes
Leon Hayes (bottom, shirt number #18) helps to bring down Hull FC’s Charlie Severs – Alamy

In defence meanwhile, Hayes didn’t shy away either. His tackle count of 27 was the highest of any Wire player on the night, with just a single missed tackle against his name in the stat book, utilising his upper body strength to get men twice as big as him down.

Only two Hull players made more tackles, full-back Tex Hoy‘s 29 a higher tally as well as Lane’s monumentous effort with 53.

When you go a man down 35 minutes in, you’d expect more tackles across the board, but it looks like the forward tried to make up for that deficit on his own!

Nonetheless, the stats back up what – to the naked eye – looked a sublime showing from Hayes, who was praised by boss Burgess post-match.

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Sam Burgess waxes lyrical over starlet Hayes: ‘A star of the future’

Aside from Warrington, eight appearances on dual-registration for League 1 outfit North Wales Crusaders last year are the only senior experience Hayes has. One of those came in the play-off final, which Carl Forster’s side lost to Doncaster.

Sky Sports had already highlighted Hayes as a standout performer at half time, and did so again after the game in the company of Burgess, who labelled him ‘a star of the future’.

On the teenager, the Wolves head coach said: “I thought he was great. In pre-season, we spent a lot of time with squad numbers 20 through to 30-odd, and we’re going to need them all.

Tex Hoy, Leon Hayes
Hull FC’s Tex Hoy is tackled by Warrington Wolves youngster Leon Hayes – Alamy

“Leon’s an exceptional player, a student of the game, and I’m really happy for him the way he managed tonight because it wasn’t easy and it’s not easy being in the halves at 19.

“He defended well, I thought he kicked well, he’s a star of the future. This year’s a great progression year for him – I’m not going to push him too hard or too far, we’re just going to develop him.

“He’s a local boy, he loves the club and I thought he was brilliant, I’m really proud of him. He’ll be in for a couple of weeks because George (Williams) is out for a couple of weeks, so he’ll get some continuity there.”

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